Australia news December 6, 2012

Hughes 'rebirth' far from proven

Australia's careful handling of Phillip Hughes conveys how desperately they need him to bloom into a batsman of quality, and longevity
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Reborn. Renewed. Rejuvenated. Ready. Really?

Phillip Hughes' recall to Australia's Test side to face Sri Lanka has been accompanied by plenty of noise to the effect that it will be a new man who takes guard in Hobart next Friday. To borrow Radiohead's words, Hughes is fitter, happier, and should be more productive.

Since the humiliation of last summer's corresponding Bellerive Oval match, when Hughes completed a quartet of near identical dismissals at the hands of Chris Martin on the way to being dropped, the 24-year-old has gone on something like a journey of self-discovery.

He stood back from the inaugural Twenty20 Big Bash League in order to work on his long-form methods, signed up to play for Worcestershire in England, and worked assiduously with his long-time mentor Neil D'Costa. While at Worcester, Hughes forsook New South Wales to move to South Australia, where Adelaide's cosiness sat more neatly with his Macksville upbringing.

All these moves resulted in runs, though spread across three formats, and what appears a more expansive game that features a better range of scoring strokes right around the ground. He even survived a brief but spicy spell from Dale Steyn when playing for Australia A against the South Africans at the SCG. The national selector John Inverarity feels that Hughes is now "cherry ripe" to play, having made a "compelling" case for Worcestershire and South Australia.

But a closer glance at how Hughes has fared in first-class matches - the only truly relevant measure when pondering his readiness for the Test team - reveals a record not so much dominant as mildly presentable. Including the 158 he struck for South Australia against Victoria at the MCG during the Adelaide Test, Hughes' batting digits are as follows: 1,135 runs at 40.54 in 16 matches, three centuries.

They are hardly the sorts of numbers to have international bowlers quaking at the sight of the diminutive Hughes, nor the kinds of figures that suggest a quantum leap in the left-hander's game. Instead they reflect a gradual improvement over the course of a year, after a dire home summer in 2011-12, both for Australia and NSW.

At the time of Hughes' exit from the Test team, numerous sage observers reckoned that he would need a good two seasons of consistent run-making and re-evaluation of his approach to be ready for a return to the international arena. Inverarity himself appeared to be of that view, and has often stated his preference for young players to be given a consistent run of matches for the one team rather than shunting them up to a higher representative level the moment they show evidence of a spike in batting or bowling form.

Nonetheless, Hughes is now back into the Australian squad little more than 12 months after he left it, and in circumstances heavy with meaning. By replacing Ricky Ponting in Australia's top order, Hughes may be seen as the embodiment of the team's batting future. Of all the young players vying to be elevated to the national team, Hughes' desire for runs and long innings is the most fervent, as demonstrated by his notching of 20 first-class centuries before his 24th birthday.

But Hughes' readiness for the major tasks to face Australia in 2013, first a tour to India then dual Ashes series away and at home, will remain open to question until he faces both opponents. The selectors' curious decision to keep Hughes away from the line of fire during the South Africa series has already stirred plenty of debate, raising as it did questions about how ready they think he is to face the world's best teams.

There can be little doubt that given the lack of standout batting options around the nation, Inverarity and his panel know they have to give Hughes the very best chance to develop into a Test batsman of quality, and longevity

The use (if not abuse) of Rob Quiney in Hughes' stead was explained by the coach Mickey Arthur before the first Test in Brisbane with the reasoning that Australia needed a team of men, not boys, to face up to Graeme Smith's team. "I wouldn't want to disrespect any nation, but against a nation like South Africa right now, and we'd probably do the same against England and India, you want an experienced head to come in," Arthur said. "You can't blood a youngster against a team like South Africa. We want a guy who is very confident in his ability, a guy who knows his game backwards, and a guy that has got a little bit of experience. That gave Rob the nod."

How that reflects on Hughes is a matter for plenty of discussion, but there can be little doubt that given the lack of standout batting options around the nation, Inverarity and his panel know they have to give Hughes the very best chance to develop into a Test batsman of quality, and longevity. By holding him back until Sri Lanka's arrival they are giving Hughes the chance to settle into the team, much as Ponting helped Michael Clarke to bed down as captain by resigning his commission ahead of tours to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, before the more difficult assignments against South Africa and India.

Ponting's sense of timing in relinquishing the captaincy proved to be exemplary, and the selectors will hope that they have done similarly right by their new No. 3 batsman. For his part, Hughes must continue the upward curve of the past year under the public gaze of the same television cameras that chronicled his unhappiest of Hobart Tests last year. Australia's Ashes hopes may depend on it.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Marcio on December 9, 2012, 23:59 GMT

    @Clyde it is obvious that you English are simply bloated on the delusion of your own propaganda. It really is like a broken record, everyone repeating the same relentlesly negative angle over and over and over again. How you translate 9 wins and 3 losses in 17 tests into "also-ran" status, only you know. Australia's recent test record or far superior to England's, and we would have at least drawn the series against SA if not for Pattinson's breakdown in the 2nd test - as opposed to the 2-0 drubbing Eng got at home.

  • RandyOZ on December 9, 2012, 0:20 GMT

    @Gilly4ever - Bailey? That's a joke, right? Thank heavens you aren't a selector!

  • Clyde on December 8, 2012, 4:15 GMT

    An average of 45 in first class cricket over so many matches, more than 80, doesn't signify to me someone who will eventually average enough in Tests, even if he is the best available at present. Australia simply does not have talent at the moment and will have to put up with being an also-ran cricket nation for the time being.

  • Front-Foot-Lunge on December 7, 2012, 23:09 GMT

    What a bare cupboard Australia have, Hughes's career was pretty much ruined by England and they'l be licking their lips to bowl at him again.

  • KrishnaRao on December 7, 2012, 4:24 GMT

    The timing right for Phil Hughes to succeed against SL and Ind. India has a reputation to discover blooming players from overseas, Mike Gatting and Matt Hayden are the best cases in this study. May Phil Hughes have as successful a career as Matt Hayden (after his 2001 series). His good mate Usman Khawaja may have a sounder technique (like Katich vs Hayden) but has a poor conversion of 50s into 100s (like Shane Watson). Once he starts converting good starts into big scores, he will force his way into Australian Test Team.

  • on December 7, 2012, 2:54 GMT

    Has he still got that awkward technique? Centuries in county cricket shouldnt count, didnt Stewie Law top the averages in England as a geriatric?

  • V-Man_ on December 7, 2012, 0:28 GMT

    Seems like they are spoon feeding Hughes. Not a good idea. Don't agree with this strategy. I never felt Hughes was a test cricket material. I would change my mind if he gets big scores against India in india and the poms. He has a habit of being dropped when he plays against the english. I won't count his performance against Sri lanka. That is just batting practise.

  • Mad_Hamish on December 6, 2012, 23:29 GMT

    I'm not convinced about Hughes' transformation. We've heard it before and he came back still nicking the ball. iirc in his first 6 shield innings this year he was caught in slips in 5 of them... admittedly he made a fair few runs in those innings. He's dominated at first class level with his old technique (including some very good innings on tough wickets) but against a disciplined test pace attack he's normally failed to deliver the goods. The England attack has worked him out especially (RSA not so much, I think they got carried away trying to bounce him) I don't recall being convinced about his play against spin either so India might not be fun and success against Sri Lanka or India still won't say much about what he'll do against a good test level pace attack.

  • Jaffa79 on December 6, 2012, 23:07 GMT

    Hey CarryOnRegardless - I think English fans are just amused by the lack of talent in Australian cricket. It is hillarious that an average cricketer (with the worst technique of any top order batter I have seen) is touted as a long term bet but is not trusted to score runs on some of the flattest wickets in recent memory! Khawaja may not always get the runs but at least he looks like he could be a top player; Hughes flaps like a tailender!

  • Chris_P on December 6, 2012, 22:03 GMT

    @Lawton Ratnam. Hughes is the youngest player to score a century in each innings of a test match, & this against South Africa, a somewhat quality pace attack I would suggest. Having seen him for his first 3 seasons for NSW, he scored runs against all forms of attack & carried on that form in his first series. Somehow, somewhere, someone got into his ear to "fix" up his technique & he looked like a frightened rabbit in spotlights. The stint in County cricket was a positive step or him in that his technique looked a lot tighter & it appears it is paying off this season. We just hope he keeps going forward as the nature of the way he first played is still very fresh in my mind.

  • Marcio on December 9, 2012, 23:59 GMT

    @Clyde it is obvious that you English are simply bloated on the delusion of your own propaganda. It really is like a broken record, everyone repeating the same relentlesly negative angle over and over and over again. How you translate 9 wins and 3 losses in 17 tests into "also-ran" status, only you know. Australia's recent test record or far superior to England's, and we would have at least drawn the series against SA if not for Pattinson's breakdown in the 2nd test - as opposed to the 2-0 drubbing Eng got at home.

  • RandyOZ on December 9, 2012, 0:20 GMT

    @Gilly4ever - Bailey? That's a joke, right? Thank heavens you aren't a selector!

  • Clyde on December 8, 2012, 4:15 GMT

    An average of 45 in first class cricket over so many matches, more than 80, doesn't signify to me someone who will eventually average enough in Tests, even if he is the best available at present. Australia simply does not have talent at the moment and will have to put up with being an also-ran cricket nation for the time being.

  • Front-Foot-Lunge on December 7, 2012, 23:09 GMT

    What a bare cupboard Australia have, Hughes's career was pretty much ruined by England and they'l be licking their lips to bowl at him again.

  • KrishnaRao on December 7, 2012, 4:24 GMT

    The timing right for Phil Hughes to succeed against SL and Ind. India has a reputation to discover blooming players from overseas, Mike Gatting and Matt Hayden are the best cases in this study. May Phil Hughes have as successful a career as Matt Hayden (after his 2001 series). His good mate Usman Khawaja may have a sounder technique (like Katich vs Hayden) but has a poor conversion of 50s into 100s (like Shane Watson). Once he starts converting good starts into big scores, he will force his way into Australian Test Team.

  • on December 7, 2012, 2:54 GMT

    Has he still got that awkward technique? Centuries in county cricket shouldnt count, didnt Stewie Law top the averages in England as a geriatric?

  • V-Man_ on December 7, 2012, 0:28 GMT

    Seems like they are spoon feeding Hughes. Not a good idea. Don't agree with this strategy. I never felt Hughes was a test cricket material. I would change my mind if he gets big scores against India in india and the poms. He has a habit of being dropped when he plays against the english. I won't count his performance against Sri lanka. That is just batting practise.

  • Mad_Hamish on December 6, 2012, 23:29 GMT

    I'm not convinced about Hughes' transformation. We've heard it before and he came back still nicking the ball. iirc in his first 6 shield innings this year he was caught in slips in 5 of them... admittedly he made a fair few runs in those innings. He's dominated at first class level with his old technique (including some very good innings on tough wickets) but against a disciplined test pace attack he's normally failed to deliver the goods. The England attack has worked him out especially (RSA not so much, I think they got carried away trying to bounce him) I don't recall being convinced about his play against spin either so India might not be fun and success against Sri Lanka or India still won't say much about what he'll do against a good test level pace attack.

  • Jaffa79 on December 6, 2012, 23:07 GMT

    Hey CarryOnRegardless - I think English fans are just amused by the lack of talent in Australian cricket. It is hillarious that an average cricketer (with the worst technique of any top order batter I have seen) is touted as a long term bet but is not trusted to score runs on some of the flattest wickets in recent memory! Khawaja may not always get the runs but at least he looks like he could be a top player; Hughes flaps like a tailender!

  • Chris_P on December 6, 2012, 22:03 GMT

    @Lawton Ratnam. Hughes is the youngest player to score a century in each innings of a test match, & this against South Africa, a somewhat quality pace attack I would suggest. Having seen him for his first 3 seasons for NSW, he scored runs against all forms of attack & carried on that form in his first series. Somehow, somewhere, someone got into his ear to "fix" up his technique & he looked like a frightened rabbit in spotlights. The stint in County cricket was a positive step or him in that his technique looked a lot tighter & it appears it is paying off this season. We just hope he keeps going forward as the nature of the way he first played is still very fresh in my mind.

  • Ozcricketwriter on December 6, 2012, 21:21 GMT

    @CricHorizon - Exactly. I've been saying this for years. George Bailey should have been the one they picked.

  • gemmy123 on December 6, 2012, 20:39 GMT

    @carryonregardles. I'm not Aussie-baiting, but Hughes` presence went pretty unnoticed last season, and I think any criticism Hughes has had from English supporters is more down to the novelty factor of being able to legitimately hammer a genuinely overrated Aussie batsman rather than fear of him. He had a very low key summer for my county Worcs, where his one- paced approach failed more often than not, hence two centuries but a low average overall. I'd suggest a top three containing Warner and Hughes will follow the same trend...and your middle order are going to get exposed to the new ball quite often. The Kawalja guy looks a better player if a little intense.

  • popcorn on December 6, 2012, 16:38 GMT

    This is a HUGE mistake. If the Selectors - which include John Inverarity,Mickey Arthur, and Hughes' friend Michael Clarke,select Phil Hughes, it is relacing ONE BAD APPLE (David Warner) with another. Instead,the Selectors should have chosen Usman Khawaja and Rob Quiney,DROPPED DAVID WARNER.The batting line up should be:Ed Cowan as 1,Usman Khawaja or Rob Quiney at 2,Usman Khawaja or Rob Quiney as Number 3, Shane Watson at 4,Michael Clarke at 5, Mike Hussey at 6, Mathew Wade at 7 ,Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc,Mitchell Johnson,Nathan Lyon at Numbers 8,9,10, 11.

  • ozwriter on December 6, 2012, 12:43 GMT

    hughes may well be a good player in 5 years, but at the moment he is a liability and he should not have been picked.

  • ozwriter on December 6, 2012, 12:41 GMT

    hughes needed to fix his technique, learn how to play the short ball, learn how to play on the leg side. khawaja has all the shots in his repertoire already and is better against swing and spin and in defence. surely khwaja must be in the team.

  • on December 6, 2012, 12:37 GMT

    Phil Hughes will struggle against quality pace attack.He may make a millions of runs against the Sri lankan's friendly bowling attack but I am afraid his lack of tecnique will be once again exposed against the English soon.

  • wibblewibble on December 6, 2012, 12:37 GMT

    I must admit, as an England fan I've not watched a lot of Hughes, apart from the two ashes series where he was slated to "destroy us", first in England and then in Aus.

    He seems an extremely aggressive player, constantly looking to drive and cut, and this invariably is his downfall, edging either to slip or keeper, or bowled through the gate.

    Each time he's come up against us, he's made low scores and then been dropped by the end of the series. 2010-11 he made 2, 12, 16, 23, 31, 13 (dropped). 2009 he made 36, 4, 17 (dropped).

    Unless the guy has suddenly developed a perfect technique for playing the moving ball, I fully expect him to fail again.

  • hycIass on December 6, 2012, 12:18 GMT

    Agree with Lewis, Khawaja has to be the next in line and fantastic to se the selectors acknowledge his hard work under Lehman this year.Aussies should include both Khawaja and Phil in all test matches so that they could build themselves to be solid batsman for them. Both are highly talented young players if they keep playing for 2 year continuously then they could become more reliable players for Aussie and increase the chance of Aussies retaining and maintaining No.1 Spot. Still they need to find agood spin bowler and consistent fast bowler.

  • TheCricketEmpireStrikesBack on December 6, 2012, 11:59 GMT

    @TheLonelyisland. Thank you for devoting the time and energy to verify my suggestion. Perhaps Barnesy4444 is correct when he says "You don't make 20 first class centuries by the age of 24 by mistake".

  • TheLonelyisland on December 6, 2012, 11:35 GMT

    CarryOnRegardless. I just wanted to check your info, so I went on his counties website and found that this season he got 2 centuries and averaged 35 for the now relegated county. I just wanted to check because I'd actually forgotten he was playing county cricket at all.

    Personally, as an england supporter, I've always thought him suspect to the ball moving at pace, whilst I always got the impression Usman was pretty solid. So quite happy to see him come over in 2013 for what will be a great series.

  • on December 6, 2012, 10:50 GMT

    Actually it may be an inspired move. Hughes can make runs and a lot of them in conditions that favour his style of play. Since then he has made lots of runs in England too and against different types of bowlers in varying conditions. He has a good chance to prove himself and I am sure he will do it. This will be followed by a series in India on low, slow wickets with no great fast bowlers, at least of the class of Steyn , Philander and Morkel. The australian selectors have got this right, in my view. Now it is up to hughes to make the most of the moment. I too was a critic of hughes weird technique but in fairness to him, he has worked on it and is a much sounder player who has not lost his penchant for big scores. Go for it Hughes. This is not the first time you are facing pressure. Ramanujam Sridhar

  • TheCricketEmpireStrikesBack on December 6, 2012, 10:22 GMT

    Hughes has always attracted lots of interest and comment from Aussie supporters. No surprise there - he is unorthodox and he has had a lot of success at first class level. Living in London as I do, what has surprised me is the level of interest from English supporters and the time and energy they seem to devote in criticising the guy. Maybe watching him score century after century in county cricket, they really are terrified of him doing the same for years to come during the Ashes. This sounds like a very good reason to select him and give him a fair run. I think the Aussie selectors have got it right.

  • Edwards_Anderson on December 6, 2012, 10:20 GMT

    Quiney should never be let near the Australian team, he is not even good enough for shield let alone Australia. Hughes is the right man for the job with Doolan and Khawaja next in line

  • Barnesy4444 on December 6, 2012, 10:17 GMT

    You don't just make 20 first class centuries by the age of 24 by mistake. Hayden's runs just prior to his return to test cricket weren't spectacular either, but they persisted with him because they knew he had what it takes. The same with Hughes. He will be a great batsmen, but get off his back, he is still only 24.

  • on December 6, 2012, 9:37 GMT

    I hope this works out but I'm afraid it will end in tears.

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  • on December 6, 2012, 9:37 GMT

    I hope this works out but I'm afraid it will end in tears.

  • Barnesy4444 on December 6, 2012, 10:17 GMT

    You don't just make 20 first class centuries by the age of 24 by mistake. Hayden's runs just prior to his return to test cricket weren't spectacular either, but they persisted with him because they knew he had what it takes. The same with Hughes. He will be a great batsmen, but get off his back, he is still only 24.

  • Edwards_Anderson on December 6, 2012, 10:20 GMT

    Quiney should never be let near the Australian team, he is not even good enough for shield let alone Australia. Hughes is the right man for the job with Doolan and Khawaja next in line

  • TheCricketEmpireStrikesBack on December 6, 2012, 10:22 GMT

    Hughes has always attracted lots of interest and comment from Aussie supporters. No surprise there - he is unorthodox and he has had a lot of success at first class level. Living in London as I do, what has surprised me is the level of interest from English supporters and the time and energy they seem to devote in criticising the guy. Maybe watching him score century after century in county cricket, they really are terrified of him doing the same for years to come during the Ashes. This sounds like a very good reason to select him and give him a fair run. I think the Aussie selectors have got it right.

  • on December 6, 2012, 10:50 GMT

    Actually it may be an inspired move. Hughes can make runs and a lot of them in conditions that favour his style of play. Since then he has made lots of runs in England too and against different types of bowlers in varying conditions. He has a good chance to prove himself and I am sure he will do it. This will be followed by a series in India on low, slow wickets with no great fast bowlers, at least of the class of Steyn , Philander and Morkel. The australian selectors have got this right, in my view. Now it is up to hughes to make the most of the moment. I too was a critic of hughes weird technique but in fairness to him, he has worked on it and is a much sounder player who has not lost his penchant for big scores. Go for it Hughes. This is not the first time you are facing pressure. Ramanujam Sridhar

  • TheLonelyisland on December 6, 2012, 11:35 GMT

    CarryOnRegardless. I just wanted to check your info, so I went on his counties website and found that this season he got 2 centuries and averaged 35 for the now relegated county. I just wanted to check because I'd actually forgotten he was playing county cricket at all.

    Personally, as an england supporter, I've always thought him suspect to the ball moving at pace, whilst I always got the impression Usman was pretty solid. So quite happy to see him come over in 2013 for what will be a great series.

  • TheCricketEmpireStrikesBack on December 6, 2012, 11:59 GMT

    @TheLonelyisland. Thank you for devoting the time and energy to verify my suggestion. Perhaps Barnesy4444 is correct when he says "You don't make 20 first class centuries by the age of 24 by mistake".

  • hycIass on December 6, 2012, 12:18 GMT

    Agree with Lewis, Khawaja has to be the next in line and fantastic to se the selectors acknowledge his hard work under Lehman this year.Aussies should include both Khawaja and Phil in all test matches so that they could build themselves to be solid batsman for them. Both are highly talented young players if they keep playing for 2 year continuously then they could become more reliable players for Aussie and increase the chance of Aussies retaining and maintaining No.1 Spot. Still they need to find agood spin bowler and consistent fast bowler.

  • wibblewibble on December 6, 2012, 12:37 GMT

    I must admit, as an England fan I've not watched a lot of Hughes, apart from the two ashes series where he was slated to "destroy us", first in England and then in Aus.

    He seems an extremely aggressive player, constantly looking to drive and cut, and this invariably is his downfall, edging either to slip or keeper, or bowled through the gate.

    Each time he's come up against us, he's made low scores and then been dropped by the end of the series. 2010-11 he made 2, 12, 16, 23, 31, 13 (dropped). 2009 he made 36, 4, 17 (dropped).

    Unless the guy has suddenly developed a perfect technique for playing the moving ball, I fully expect him to fail again.

  • on December 6, 2012, 12:37 GMT

    Phil Hughes will struggle against quality pace attack.He may make a millions of runs against the Sri lankan's friendly bowling attack but I am afraid his lack of tecnique will be once again exposed against the English soon.